Dear First Presbyterian Church Family

Session, the leadership council of the church, met last week to discuss COVID-19 precautions and in-person worship for the month of November. Prior to our meeting, we prayed, read articles, reviewed data, and talked with many of our fellow church members. All of us recognize the pandemic-fatigue that our church family is feeling, we are all feeling it too. We want things to return to “normal.” We want to be able to hold in-person worship services. Our Sunday School teachers want to teach Sunday School, they miss the kids! We want to be able to share conversation over cups of coffee. We hear you when you say you want these things too; we recognize that a huge part of our shared life together as a church family includes Sunday morning worship and Wednesday evening activities. These give us opportunities to learn and grow in our faith, and just as important, opportunities for fellowship, for checking in on one another, and for caring for each other.

We also discussed the in-person worship experiences that we have shared over the summer and fall. While worship in our church building has been suspended for 32 weeks, we have held 17 in-person worship experiences ranging from our Palm Sunday parade to drive-in communion worship in May, to our glorious run of 13 worship services in the park starting mid-July that ended last week due to the colder weather. So, while we have not been able to hold worship in our building, we have facilitated an in-person worship experience more weeks than we haven’t during this time. We recognize that nothing can take the place of gathering in our sanctuary, hearing our organ and choir, singing the hymns, saying the prayers together, and passing the peace of Christ. However, we want you to know that your church staff and countless volunteers have worked tirelessly to bring you these worship experiences since March.

We are seeking to balance all of that with the health and safety of our church members and our community. We are listening to the health department and seeking to adapt their guidelines and suggestions for best practices on how to stay safe. Last week, our South Heartland District Health Department raised the “Risk Dial.” We are now squarely in the “Elevated” risk category.

In this category, the recommendations from the health department for the “GENERAL PUBLIC” include:

  • Stay at home unless traveling for work, medical care, or food
  • Distance at least 6 feet from anyone outside the home
  • Gatherings only with modifications for COVID-19
  • Face coverings strongly recommended for anyone over 2 years old

For “AT-RISK OR VULNERABLE POPULATIONS” defined as adults over age 65 and anyone with underlying health conditions the recommendations include:

  • Stay home as much as possible
  • Rely on help for needs outside the home (groceries, medications, etc.)
  • Distance from those working outside of the home

In addition to these recommendations from the Health Department, we also looked at the data of new cases over the last month, and we discussed the increase in hospitalizations that is happening in our area. Please see the graphics below for details.

After reviewing all of this data and talking for more than 45 minutes, your Session voted to continue to suspend in-person worship for the month of November. We will meet again on November 19 to make a decision about December. We recognize that Advent and Christmas are coming up. Please know that we are working diligently to come up with creative ways to celebrate these seasons, even if we cannot gather in-person in our sanctuary.

The bishop of the Lutheran churches in Nebraska, Rev. Brian D. Maas, writes, “We have been wandering in the wilderness of this pandemic for over six months now, and we are all tired of it. Constant reminders of it are wearing, as are the daily headlines of disagreement and outright conflict in the culture around us. It’s important to remember that God travels this journey with us and sees that we have all we need to endure until we make our way out of it. This pandemic will end. We will endure and thrive once again, through the presence of the one who says “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Be encouraged.”

I close with a word of gratitude for all the ways I see each of you strive to witness to the world by your care for and service to others, your unity in the presence of disagreement, your grace in the presence of contention, your generosity in a time of uncertainty, and your faithfulness in all things. I continue to be so grateful for each of you and your steadfast witness to shine the love and light of Christ into the world, particularly in this difficult time. Thank you and I give thanks to God for each of you!

Your Servants in Christ,

Rev. Greg Allen-Pickett and the Session of First Presbyterian Church

Mary Seiler, Brian Johnson, Kay Georgiana, Mary Fisk, Pat Kern, Kris Horton, Bev Rader,

Erik Nielsen, Harold Korb, Joe Black, Neil Riley, Scott Shardelow, Cheryl Lockwood